August 1st, 2014

Drilling concerns run high


By Kuhl, Nick on February 25, 2014.

Nick Kuhl

Lethbridge Herald

nkuhl@lethbridgeherald.com

“There are 19 producing oil/gas wells within your community.”

Bob Willard, a senior adviser with Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), provided that message to a full Yates Memorial Centre audience on Monday night, as Lethbridge city council met as the Community Issues Committee to discuss urban drilling within city limits.

Willard was one of the specialists on a guest panel invited to provide analysis and answer questions from council members and from the public. He discussed eight critical criteria the AER uses when applications are submitted, including an information base, documented science, applications and dispute resolution.

“In this province, over the last 75 years, the energy regulator has got a very extensive database. All companies do a lot of pre-planning, but it’s critical that those companies engage local landowners, local residents, local authorities, to understand the local needs; to address misinformation early,” said Willard, adding there are already about 650 oil and gas wells in urban centres in the province.

“Every well is different; every land use situation can be different.”

Moderated by Deputy Mayor Ryan Parker, the meeting was designed to provide an opportunity for citizens to obtain information and gain education around the issue of oil drilling within city limits. Panel members were chosen for their knowledge and expertise in the defined topic areas and each began with brief presentations.

Douglas Schmitt, Canadian Research Chair in Rock Physics at the University of Alberta, talked about drilling processes, including how fracking is achieved with the help of cement, surface casing and steel casing. The integrity and reliability of those products is sometimes where the risks can arise, he said.

“There’s things that could go wrong, but if this is properly done it should seal that borehole in,” Schmitt said, adding contamination of groundwater and the risk of natural seismicity also exist.

“Can events be felt? From the hydraulic fracturing itself – probably not. So far no events have actually been felt from hydraulic fracturing in any great extent.”

Brenda Ponde with Alberta Energy discussed how tenure and how mineral leases are awarded in the province. She said there are more than 92,000 active agreements in the province.

“Our tenured process is a reiterant cycle that ensures continued activity for Alberta,” Ponde said. “We make sure that our processes and decisions are fair, transparent and consistent Alberta’s tenure system is actually world renowned.”

Dr. Brent Friesen of Alberta Health Services talked about that organization’s role in protecting the public health, while Jeff Greene, the City of Lethbridge’s director of planning and development, explained how rapid growth on the westside has lead to a re-examination of how urban development and oil production will find a way to co-exist.

Lethbridge Fire Chief Brian Cornforth was the final panel member to present. He outlined how the city’s emergency personnel would respond to a potential industrial fire or release at a site.

Since the capacity at the Yates was reached, the CIC meeting had overflow seating with a live video feed at city hall’s council chambers next door, while it was also streamed live on the City of Lethbridge website. About 700 people attended at the Yates and as an overflow crowd at city hall.

Due to meeting running behind schedule, the council question period and questions from the public took place later into the night. The tone of most expressed serious concerns about the prospect of drilling in the city. The meeting’s full video will uploaded to the City’s website at http://www.lethbridge.ca today.

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2 Responses to “Drilling concerns run high”

  1. Rural Alberta says:

    “’Can events be felt? From the hydraulic fracturing itself – probably not. So far no events have actually been felt from hydraulic fracturing in any great extent.’”

    Not only are the “events” from hydraulic fracturing being “felt,” the wastewater injection and production of formations is wreaking so much havoc that governments are now forking over billions to repair damages and strengthen homes, buildings and infrastructure – and the US Geological Survey is putting together a risk map, “to account for the hazard created by man-made earthquakes, many of which are triggered by oil and gas activities.”

    “Between April 2009 and July 2011, 31 seismic events were recorded and located by NRCan in the Etsho area of the Horn River Basin in northeast British Columbia (Figure 1). Another seven events were recorded near the Tattoo area between Dec. 8 and Dec. 13, 2011. The observed events ranged in magnitude between 2.2 and 3.8 ML on the Richter scale as recorded by NRCan (Table 1).

    A search of the areas in the National Earthquake Database from 1985 to present shows no detected seismicity in the Horn River Basin prior to 2009.

    … Two instances of wellbore deformation along horizontal sections were reported by one operator.

    … At d-1-D/94-O-9, the deformation was encountered at 4,245 m KB and the casing distortion blocked completion efforts at 4,288 m KB.

    … one event studied within this investigation was reported felt at surface. NRCan’s report on the May 19, 2011, 3.8 ML event indicates that the event was ‘felt by workers in (the) bush’.

    … Conclusion

    Horn River Basin seismicity events, from 2009 to late 2011, were caused by fluid injection during hydraulic fracturing. All events occurred during or between hydraulic fracturing stage operations”

    bcogc.ca/node/8046/download?documentID=1270

    __________________

    “The locals call it ‘incoming,’ and some compare the violence of the tremors to living in a war zone.

    Others say it’s like having their homes hit by a truck.

    The scene is north Texas, home to the Barnett Shale, the largest unconventional gas field in the United States.

    There, industry, often touted as the new engine of the U.S. economy, has punctured and fractured the landscape with 17,000 gas wells, as well as thousands of disposal sites to get rid of related toxic waste fluids.

    It’s in north Texas where the unconventional gas industry, together with what it calls the ‘safe and proven’ practice of hydraulic fracturing, has been making unconventional, earth-shattering headlines.

    In the last three months, the community of Azle, located just northwest of Fort Worth, has suffered a swarm of earthquakes — more than 30 — that has cracked the foundations of the houses, frightened local residents, created sinkholes and raised concerns about property values.

    Five quakes in January alone ranged from a magnitude of 2.3 to 3.1.

    ‘We’re sitting there, and 11:40, it rumbled right on through the house,’ Azle resident Tracy Strickland told KERA news, a public broadcaster in north Texas earlier this month.

    ‘It feels like a truck hits the back of the house, and the whole house just shakes. So, it’s something.’

    … After an angry town hall meeting in early January, the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state’s oil and gas regulator, vowed to hire an earthquake specialist to study the phenomenon. It initially denied any connection between tremors and oil and gas activity.

    ‘No disrespect, but this isn’t rocket science here,’ Lynda Stokes, the mayor of Reno, Texas (a community near Azle) recently told officials at a 300-strong protest in the state capitol, Austin. ‘Common sense tells you the wells are playing a big role in all this.’

    So, too, does the science.

    A string of studies, including one by B.C.’s Oil and Gas Commission, have not only implicated hydraulic fracturing but the related practice of pumping dirty wastewater deep underground as the cause of unprecedented swarms of earthquakes in Ohio, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, B.C. and even Alberta.

    A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found that the rate of earthquakes greater than a magnitude of three has steadily increased in the U.S. Heartland since 2001, the beginning of the shale gas boom, ‘culminating in a six-fold increase over 20th century levels in 2011.’

    ‘While the seismicity rate changes described here are almost certainly manmade, it remains to be determined how they are related to either changes in extraction methodologies or the rate of oil and gas production,’ concluded the study.

    Studies in England, Oklahoma and B.C. have pointedly implicated hydraulic fracturing as earthquake triggers too.

    … While extracting oil and gas, the petroleum industry yearly produces between 15 to 20 billion barrels of highly toxic wastewater contaminated with salt, heavy metals hydrocarbons and radioactive material.

    The U.S. Argonne National Laboratory, for example, reports that aging U.S. wells produce an average of more than seven barrels of water for each barrel of oil. Meanwhile, 260 barrels of water are produced for every million cubic feet of natural gas.

    Industry injects most of this toxic brew back underground. But the fracking industry has exponentially increased the amount of toxic water needing disposal.

    Pumping these wastes permanently underground remains a big and uncertain business. Texas operates more 50,000 injection wells, five of which are located near Azle, the state’s new earthquake centre.

    Alberta has nearly 2,000 injection well sites and Oklahoma, which experienced a record 2,600 quakes last year, is home to 5,000 injection sites. As of 2007, B.C. employed more than 100 wastewater wells in its gas fields.

    Many of continent’s more than 680,000 injection and disposal wells have sprung leaks or have fractured into aquifers.

    Since the advent of hydraulic fracturing of shale gas plays in northern B.C., the volume of water disposed by the industry through deep injection wells has grown from approximately 1.2 billion litres in 1990 to 4.2 billion litres in 2009 — an average increase of seven per cent per year.

    Geologists have known for years that various forms of hydrocarbon production, from drilling and pumping to injecting and fracturing, can cause man-made earthquakes. Experts call the phenomenon ‘induced seismicity.’

    One 2013 study found that large earthquakes in Japan and Chile were now unsettling injection waste disposal sites in Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado, creating smaller earthquakes.

    ‘The remote triggering by big earthquakes is an indication the area is critically stressed,’ said author Nicholas van der Elst, a researcher at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

    The natural gas industry sparked a swarm of major earthquakes in the 1970s and ’80s in central Alberta. The rapid draining of a sour gas field near Rocky Mountain House triggered as many as 146 quakes in one year.

    Oil sands waste disposal in Cold Lake, Alberta triggered earthquakes in the ’60s and ’80s.

    The natural gas industry also shook up Gazli, Uzbekistan with earthquakes as high as 7.3 on the Richter scale in the ’70s.

    Russian scientists concluded that a series of major quakes were ‘the strongest of all the known earthquakes in the plain of Central Asia’ and that ‘the amassed data indicate that the Gazli earthquakes were triggered by the exploitation of the gas field.’

    But the with the advent of multi-stage horizontal hydraulic fracturing, which injects large volumes of water and chemicals at extremely high pressures much deeper underground than ever before and produces enormous amounts of waste fluids, the industry has set off earthquakes with startling regularity.

    Even the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, which is responsible for the safety of 640 dams, is getting alarmed. It has requested 3,000-ft buffer zones around dams and other impoundments due to worries about tremors caused by multi-stage horizontal fracturing.

    Corp engineers fear that fracking could cause shifts along natural faults and weaken dam foundations.

    They suspect that ‘poorly controlled hydrofracturing’ or ‘breakouts’ could erode ‘the embankment along existing faults located in the foundation, abutments or outlet works,’ leading to a dam failure.

    A 2013 study by the Alberta Geological Survey shows that earthquake activity in the hydrocarbon rich province has increased from an average of 20 minor quakes a year to more than 40 from 2000 to 2010.

    In particular, clusters of tremors have increased in areas of ramped-up tight oil activity and multi-stage hydraulic fracking, such as Brazeau County and Del Bonita near the Montana border.

    Landowners have also reported structural damage from tremors in Cochrane, Ponoka and Strathmore, where intense fracking has taken place.

    As a consequence, the government of Alberta quietly issued controls on fracking around critical infrastructure and imposed severe restrictions on activity near the Brazeau Dam after lobbying by TransAlta pressed for tighter regulations last year.

    Meanwhile, a series of earthquakes in northern Holland, under Europe’s largest and oldest natural gas field, illustrate another geological danger posed by the gas industry.

    There the issue isn’t fracturing, but the rate and volume of gas that the industry has sucked out of the ground, down to depths of 2,900 metres underneath the Dutch province of Groningen.

    So much gas has been pumped out that the land is now collapsing or subsiding which, in turn, has triggered a series of devastating quakes as high as four in magnitude.

    More than 60 per cent of 60,000 homes in northern Holland have now been damaged by scores of recent earthquakes directly induced by the gas industry.

    One significant quake recently shook a dyke holding back the North Sea and sparked protests from thousands of frightened landowners.

    Several decades ago, the rate of gas extraction triggered an average of 20 tremors a year. Now the quakes average one a week.

    The Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM), a gas consortium including Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil Corpgas, admits it is dealing with more than 6,000 damage claims.”

    thetyee.ca/News/2014/01/31/Shale-Gas-Earthquakes/

    ________________

    “Following growing residents’ concerns overs the risk of earthquakes, the Dutch government has agreed to cut gas production in Groningen.

    Minister of Economic Affairs Henk Kamp visited the village of Loppersum on Friday to reveal the government’s plans to scale back and provide money for damaged homes and infrastructure in the area.

    … People were concerned about earthquakes caused by natural gas drilling. As a result of earthquakes caused by gas drilling, real estate market is also facing problems in Groningen. The value of houses is falling there.

    … A total of €1.2 billion will be spend over the next five years for strengthening buildings, houses and infrastructure in Groningen.”

    nltimes.nl/2014/01/17/netherlands-agrees-slash-groningen-gas-output/

    _________________

    “Federal officials are wrestling with how to account for the hazard created by man-made earthquakes, many of which are triggered by oil and gas activities.

    In the past, the U.S. Geological Survey has generally excluded shaking related to industrial activity from its earthquake hazard maps. The maps project the likelihood of large, natural earthquakes and are used to develop building codes, plan roads and bridges, and set insurance rates.

    But amid an increase in the number and severity of man-made quakes in oil and gas regions, scientists and engineers at the agency are developing a separate map that will include what geologists call ‘induced seismicity.’

    The traditional hazard maps, predicting the risk of natural quakes, are expected to be issued early next year. The map evaluating the risks of man-made quakes will be issued later in the year because the agency is still figuring out how it should be assembled.

    … The changes could anger oil and gas companies who get blamed for the damage from the quakes, while proving a relief to those in construction and real estate that their area won’t be deemed a natural earthquake zone.”

    ernstversusencana.ca/usgs-to-make-separate-risk-map-for-man-made-quakes-national-research-council-excludes-frac-caused-quakes-in-bcs-horn-river-basin-off-global-map

  2. […] Drilling concerns run highLethbridge HeraldThe natural gas industry sparked a swarm of …read more […]


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